China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea receives more attention particularly amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Last year, China ramped up its activities in the disputed islands, established administrative district on Spratly and Paracel islands also named 80 islands reefs shoals and ridges, of which 55 are underwater. The then US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had reminded the Foreign Ministers of ASEAN that Beijing is taking advantage of the pandemic to push the territorial ambitions in the south china sea.
Competing territorial claims over islands have been a long-standing issue in the region. For China, it goes back to the then Premier Zhou Enlai’s statement of September 1951, People’s China commentary claimed that records in the land’s history regarding the Paracel and Spratly Islands date back to the Sung Dynasty, where coins belonging to Emperor Yung-lo of the Ming Dynasty were discovered in a coral reef there just before Japan invaded Chinese Manchuria in 1931. Although Beijing has not specified its claims, it uses the “nine-dash-line” covering almost the entirety of the resources-rich islands. While China seems to rely on this historical claim, however, UNCLOS does not grant signatories the right to claim on such a basis.